Disclaimer – This is a piece that was originally written before the 1st draft on A House Divided was complete. As such, only some or even none of this may appear in the finished draft.

I wasn’t sure if it was the constant travelling, or the forced togetherness, but we were all beginning to feel tired and on edge, and it seemed that the way to combat that was by needling each other.  The past week had been little more than cheap motels during the day, with cheaper food and driving all night. The other four had been dividing the driving between them so I’d had nothing better to do other than listen to them bicker with each other. For the most part, it was good natured enough. Even Casey and Jodie, who I’d half expected to tear into each other first chance they got, seemed to be taking my truce request seriously.

Quinn’s refusal to clue us in on where were going had made him a prime target but so far there hadn’t been any major blow-ups and he’d got one or two good digs in return. He and MacReady seemed to have a much greater working history than I’d originally thought, to judge from the things they knew about each other and the stories they both told.

There was also a fair bit of innuendo flying back and forth and I had been a little worried about how Jodie would react to that. I’d even been on the verge of saying something but she’d stopped me with a quick look and a shake of her head. After that I’d decided to hold my tongue, unless she seemed on the verge of losing it. So far, that hadn’t happened, in fact, she’d had a comeback for just about any, maybe even more so.

“Mbejane look okay back there?” Casey asked, as we bounced in and out of a pothole.

I craned my head back, looking out the rear window. I could see headlights following us but not a lot else. “Well, he’s still back there. Beyond that…”

“Ah told him he should a got somethin’ more suited t’ this kinda terrain.” Quinn said.

“It’s a jeep.” She said exasperatedly. “What did you want him to get, a fucking tank?”

Quinn made an indignant sound in his throat. “Ah don’t like ’em.”

Casey looked at him for a moment. It was too dark to see her expression clearly but I could still tell when her face broke into a smile. “You crashed one, didn’t you?” She said with delight.

“Ah did not.”

“Worse than that.” MacReady said before Casey had a chance to respond. “He rolled the fuckin’ thing. I’ve got the damn scars to prove it.”

“We was gittin’ shot at.” Quinn snapped back.

I saw Casey lean back in her chair, putting her feet back up on the truck’s dash once more and, even though I couldn’t see it, I was sure the smile was still in place. “And why were you being shot at that time?” She asked, barely suppressed amusement in her voice.

“Ah …” Quinn started but MacReady cut him off.

“It wasn’t a job, if that’s what you mean.” He said with a mixture of humor, irritation, exasperation and who knew what else. “We’d already taken care of what needed doing…” I’d noticed that about MacReady; he didn’t mind telling stories and he was good at it but he always seemed to shy away for being explicit about what he and Quinn had been sent out to do in the first place. “…And we was just kickin’ back some before we headed home. Well,” He said in the expansive way that had come to indicate had beginning of a new story. “We’re just having a beer and steak in some town in east Texas, can’t remember the name of the place now.”

Quinn grunted. “Nacogdoches.”

“Whatever. Nice place, as I recall. Anyway, we’re havin’ a meal before we start headin’ on to Houston and, of course, this one…” He punched the back of Quinn’s headrest lightly. “…Does his usual thing and starts hittin’ on our waitress.”

There was a muffled snort from Jodie next to me and I elbowed her gently.

“So he’s layin’ it on pretty thick, she’s givin’ as good as she’s gettin’, and before long he’s askin’ me to postpone our drive south so him an’ Miss Thing can get horizontal.”

“What the hell do you tell these women?” Jodie asked, elbowing me back. “Or do you just have a gift for spotting the desperate?”

“Oh, Ah’m gifted alright.” Quinn told her in a low, insinuating tone. “An’ Ah kin be charmin’ as hell when Ah wanna be.”

“And just how did charming could you have been, if you ended up getting shot at?” Casey asked drily.

“Charmin’ enough that soon as her shift was over, she was a bangin’ on mah motel door. An not too long after that, Ah was bangin..”

“Yes, thank you.” I said quickly, cutting him off. “I love it when we share.” I told no one in particular.

“You should take Ash with you next time you plan on going out on the town.” Casey told him, with a glance back over her shoulder are me. “Maybe you can get him laid.”

There was general laughter; to which I barely protested. The first time i’d been a target of a similar remark, I’d tried to pull rank. That had been met with derision, not in a mean way, of course, but enough to let me know that, at least for the duration, formality was a long way behind us. That, and the handful of peanuts Jodie had laughingly thrown at me, had convinced me not to try that again. On the one hand, Id felt strangely comforted by it, like I was accepted as a part of the team, rather than a hanger-on. On the other, I was glad that no-one else was there to witness it.

Unexpectedly, Quinn came to my defense. “What makes yah think the kid needs any help? Reckon Ah saw him gettin’ the eye durin’ that dinner at Takeda’s.”

“Really? I thought it was you Lady DiBonaventura was taken with.”

There was more laughter but Quinn continued. “Ah ain’t talkin’ ’bout her. Sweet little geisha-lookin’ chick…”

“Still waiting to hear about how you managed to roll that jeep.” I cut in, feeling bad about putting the attention back on him but not wanting him to carry with that line of thought.

“Turns out Miss Thing was actually Mrs. Deputy Sheriff.” MacReady said. “Never did get the whole story, of course, but he comes tearin’ ass into the motel parkin’ lot. Pulls up in a prowler, lights and sirens on full, jumps out with it still runnin’, straight into the office, hollerin’ all kinds a shit. I hear enough to know what’s what, so I haul Romeo here out the damn room and to the jeep. Course, he’s got the damn keys so he gets the driver’s seat and we get the hell out of there. I’m thinking we got away clean when Deputy Dickhead comes haulin’ up behind us, still with the full business going. The fuckin’ guy’s leanin’ out the window and, at first I think he’s just tryin’ to get us to pull over. Next thing the rear window shatters and he’s firin’ some kinda damn cannon at us.”

He paused for breath and Casey said in wonder. “When the hell was this? I thouht they did away with lynch mobs back in the sixties.”

“’83, I think.” MacReady answered and Quinn made a grumbling sound of assent.

“Still, how’d he expect to get away with that shit? Sheriff or not, he’d still have some explaining to do if they ended up having to scrape you up off the highway.”

I felt rather than saw MacReady’s shrug. “Hell if I know. Could be he just wanted to throw a scare into the guy ballin’ his wife but, he sure as hell seemed in a killin’ mood.” He paused, sighing, and reached up to rub at his temple. “But maybe, it was just the wrong thing happenin’ at the right time, or whatever. Quinn decides the best way of getting’ clear of the asshole is to take us off the road. Course, he turns us into the line of fire and Deputy Dipshit scores himself a lucky shot into one of our tires. Which means we take a nose dive off the road and go rollin’ two, three times.”

“So what happened next?” I asked.

“Well, I guess I was out cold for a minute or two. Woke up with a splittin’ headache and the start of this scar right here.” He touched this first two fingers to his temple, almost a salute. “Quinn here’s tryin’ to ease himself out from under the steerin’ column. As for Deputy Douchebag, I’m guessing he took one look at what was happenin’ and just kept on down the highway, hopin’ someone else was gonna deal with it.”

“Fucker.” Quinn grunted.

“He probably said the same thing about you.” Jodie said with a laugh. “Still, couldn’t have been much fun stuck out there.”

“I’ve had better days. So, we manage to crawl out of the damn wreck, salvage what can of our stuff; which wasn’t much and start walkin’. Some guy haulin’,” He hesitated, then continued. “Hell if I can remember; somthin’ in a semi anyway. So he picks us up and we ride with him on down to Houston, end up getting on our flight after all. Can’t remember the guy’s name but he had this logo on his truck, damnedest thing. Called it the Pork Chop Express.” He chuckled.

“Ah remember he was on that damn CB half the time,” Quinn said sourly. “Didn’t help mah headache none.”

“Still, pretty decent of him to pick you guys up like that.” Casey said. “I guess most folk wouldn’t want to be outnumbered like that.”

“Wouldn’t object none if it were you an’ Jodie.” Quinn said and I could practically hear the leer. “Probably think it was a lucky damn day.”

“That wouldn’t last too long.” MacReady said with a laugh. “Not if the past week’s been anything to go by.”